Laura Wood gave it a hostile review over at The Thinking Housewife:
Contrary to its title, this book is not at all about making peace with marriage, at least not marriage to a man. It’s a misty-eyed paean to feminine independence and an ignorant and misleading appraisal of the institution of marriage. It is shockingly anti-male ...
As Laura Wood points out, it's odd that people should accept marriage advice from someone like Elizabeth Gilbert. She was married in her 20s, but divorced when she decided she never wanted to commit to children. She has finally settled aged 40 with a 55-year-old Brazilian man and some dogs.
There are two highly objectionable messages in her book. The first is that women should marry as late as possible, the later the better:
Marriage is not a game for the young. Wait as long as you humanly can to get married, and your odds of staying with one partner forever will increase dramatically. If you wait until you are, say, 35 years old to get married, your odds of success are pretty terrific.
She justifies this by claiming that 85% of women who marry before the age of 23 will divorce and that the divorce rate continues to decrease for women in their 30s.
The statistic is misleading. It's true that there is a high divorce rate for teen marriages, but the risk declines rapidly for those in their early 20s:
According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48% of people who enter marriage when under age 18, and 40% of 18- and 19-year-olds, will eventually divorce. But only 29% of those who get married at age 20 to 24 will eventually divorce—very similar to the 24% of the 25-and-older cohort.
Furthermore, the risk of divorce for those marrying in their 20s is much lower if the participants are not high school dropouts, if there is a reasonable income, if the parents are not divorced, if there is church attendance and if the couple wait until after the wedding to have children. Depending on these factors the chance of divorce can vary from 10% to 90%.
I would agree that it's probably better not to marry as teens. Most people are still developing into their adult personalities at this time, so the potential of people growing unexpectedly apart is much greater.
But the idea of women waiting until the last possible moment to marry is dramatically wrong. It will lead many women to end up just like Elizabeth Gilbert herself: childless and settling with a much older man. Women are at the peak of their fertility, beauty, sexuality and emotional responsiveness in their 20s. It's when they have the most opportunity to marry well and have children.
And if women wait to the last possible moment, then men are likely to have already adapted to a bachelor lifestyle and be much less suitable husband material.
The second flawed message in Elizabeth Gilbert's book is that women are held back from marriage by a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She claims that marriage benefits men much more than women - and again she argues her case with some questionable research:
Interviewer: Do you think marriage is more beneficial to men or women?
Elizabeth Gilbert: This is not my opinion, but a fact backed up by every conceivable study: Marriage is far, far more beneficial to men than women. Married men perform far better in life than single men, and are happier than single men, and live longer than single men, and earn more money than single men.
Married women, on the other hand, make less money than single women, suffer more from depression than single women, don't live as long as single women, and are more likely to be the victims of violence than single women. This has always been the case, which does fly in the face of the mythology and romanticizing of marriage that is epidemic in our culture.
The "Western Style Problem" my friend Ting in Laos describes is the moment that women start deciding that they might want to delay or even defer marriage - understandable, given the facts - which tends to throw a wrench in the workings of traditional family structure. Social conservatives lament this, but maybe the bigger question needs to be, "How can we create family and marriage structures where women don't lose so big?" Maybe if that were the question being confronted, more women might be interested in embracing marriage again.
What nonsense. Her claims are not "backed up by every conceivable study". There is plenty of research showing that women, too, benefit from marriage rather than "losing big". Consider, for instance, the following information from a Maggie Gallagher column.
First, on the issue of violence:
Marriage lowers the risk that both men and women will become victims of violence, including domestic violence. A 1994 Justice Department report, based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that single and divorced women were four to five times more likely to be victims of violence in any given year than wives ...
Married people live longer and healthier lives. The power of marriage is particularly evident in late middle age. When Linda Waite and a colleague, for example, analyzed mortality differentials in a very large, nationally representative sample, they found an astonishingly large "marriage gap" in longevity: nine out of ten married guys who are alive at 48 will make it to age 65, compared with just six in ten comparable single guys (controlling for race, education, and income). For women, the protective benefits of marriage are also powerful, though not quite as large. Nine out of ten wives alive at age 48 will live to be senior citizens, compared with just eight out of ten divorced and single women.
Married people not only make more money, they manage money better and build more wealth together than either would alone. At identical income levels, for example, married people are less likely to report "economic hardship" or trouble paying basic bills. The longer you stay married, the more assets you build; by contrast, length of cohabitation has no relationship to wealth accumulation. On the verge of retirement, the average married couple has accumulated assets worth about $410,000, compared with $167,000 for the never-married and $154,000 for the divorced. Couples who stayed married in one study saw their assets increase twice as fast as those who had remained divorced over a five-year period.
On mental health:
Marriage is good for your mental health. Married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed Americans. By contrast, getting divorced lowers both men's and women's mental health, increasing depression and hostility, and lowering one's self-esteem and sense of personal mastery and purpose in life ...
Wives are also much less likely to commit suicide than single, divorced, or widowed women.
Consider what Elizabeth Gilbert is really arguing. She is claiming that despite all the hard work and sacrifices that men undertake for their families, that women would be better off single. What kind of a message does this send men? It suggests that men ought not to make the effort to begin with.
The truth is that Elizabeth Gilbert did not recoil from marriage because of a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She did so because she was brought up with a liberal ideal of autonomy for women - an ideal that she is now struggling with: she is sticking with it even whilst she wonders what life would be like with some other more traditional ideal.
I'll go on to discuss this in a future post.